The web continues to grow, and Web 2.0 tools are emerging constantly. One of the most difficult challenges for an entrepreneur is choosing which tools are the best for getting the job done. Here are some of the more mainstream Web 2.0 tools you can use to improve your business operations and team productivity.
Project coordination and collaboration
In the past, people typically created project plans in Microsoft Project or another standalone or semi-collaborative project management tool. Most small and medium-sized businesses managed projects using a limited document tool like Excel or from within Outlook. Collaboration on projects was very limited. As an entrepreneur, you can now use web-based software service project management tools such as eProject or Basecamp.
What makes these tools efficient is that as long as you already have a browser installed you don't have to install any additional software. Just sign up and start managing your projects. You also only typically pay on a monthly basis so the initial investment is small. For larger teams or more complex security, you have to spend more time setting up the online tools, but you still can be up and running very quickly. Both of the vendors I mentioned have all the major project management features you need, so you can manage multiple projects, plan and assign team tasks, set up to-do lists and schedule milestones. You can also use the tools to track time and manage and approve timesheets.
Sales force automation and CRM software services
Contact management, sales force automation and customer relationship management have been around for quite awhile. Large enterprises have been using expensive systems for years, and entrepreneurs typically used tools like ACT! and GoldMine for smaller sales forces. For the past few years, though, many businesses have moved to the software-as-a-service model and used companies like Salesforce.com for traditional sales force automation.
Again, the best advantage of using software as a service for entrepreneurs is the time-to-market aspect. If you can live with doing only basic configurations and changes, you can be selling in one day if you're the only employee, or in one to two weeks if you have a small sales force, depending on your team's skill sets. Software as a service helps the business users rely less on internal IT staff.
If you have an environment where collaborative teams will thrive, then you can use wikis to your advantage. Wikis are web systems that allow multiple users to collaborate on the same web document. They can become an incredible productivity tool by allowing your employees, suppliers and customers to exchange knowledge and information. Wikis can become your company's digital knowledge base. One thing to take into account, though, is that you need internal monitoring, especially if you have a larger organization.
Project collaboration is one of the most effective uses of Wikis. They don't have the resource management features that project management tools have, but they're great for sharing information on a project.
Besides using a blog as a marketing and sales tool, it also can be used as a productivity tool for recording and sharing information. Here are a few examples:
- Shift changes--Employees can record what happened on the previous shift and what to look out for.
- Product knowledge--Product experts can benefit the rest of the company and external partners by sharing product information via a blog.
- Customer service--Blogs can be simple mechanisms for customer service personnel to share ideas or advice.
- Research--Companies with subject matter experts benefit when these experts share their knowledge via blogs both internally and externally.
While online meeting tools and instant messenger applications are somewhat separate from browser technologies, they're still essential during these Web 2.0 times. Being able to effectively communicate via instant messenger with multiple users in collaborative ways across the globe can improve employee productivity and save on communications and travel cost. Troubleshooting issues by having a customer support person view a remote user's desktop can help resolve problems in minutes vs. days.
I've only scratched the surface by mentioning some of the more extensively used Web 2.0 productivity tools. For someone starting a business, these services and tools are excellent options for getting your operations up and running quickly. If you want to make your business more productive, determine which of these tools and services you could benefit from most.
Frank Bell is Entrepreneur.com's "Web 2.0" columnist and a principal at IT Strategists, a leading business and technology consulting firm in Southern California. He has consulted with many internet startups, as well as companies such as Yahoo!, Vivendi Universal, Disney, Toyota, Nissan, Deluxe Digital Studios, AEG, Sony and Ticketmaster.